August 11, 2011
Can a summer appetizer be more classic than melon and cured ham? Growing up, it was something my mother loved to serve when entertaining, so I always associated this combo with special occasions. My impression of this dish changed when I read Jacque Pepin’s Fast Food My Way. Pepin deconstructs the staid ham-wrapped fruit and deliciously elevates the appetizer by transforming the ingredients into a salad drizzled with lemon and coarse-ground black pepper. Often, I’ll take Pepin’s recipe and improvise with whatever I have on-hand.
For my latest ham and fruit variation, I used delicious Iberico ham I found at our local gourmet meat and cheese shop, C’est Cheese. I combined the ham with beautifully sweet heirloom melons from the farmer’s market (I had a melon mishap in my garden this year resulting in no yield — boo) and one tangy nectarine. I drizzled the whole thing with fresh lime juice and extra virgin olive oil, then sprinkled peppermint, cracked black pepper and sea salt over the top.
I brought out the whole salad on a platter and dished up servings on small plates for friends while they enjoyed drinks outside. It was a refreshing and delicious first course that complemented our summer meal. For this appetizer, the main things to remember: keep it casual and have fun. It’s a great and easy formula. You have salty with the ham, sweet with fruit, a touch of acid with the lime, mint and pepper to tie it all together. It’s hard to go wrong with such a mouth-watering combination!
Ibérico Ham and Summer Fruit
1 small melon (1.5 – 3.5 pounds)
1 large nectarine or peach
1/3 pound Ibérico ham (if you can’t find it, try prosciutto or Serrano ham)
Juice of 1/2 a lime
3 mint leaves (chiffonaded)
6 black peppercorns cracked in a mortar and pestle
Extra virgin olive oil — best quality
Pick your fruit. I tend to choose smaller melons. I find that smaller melons are juicier and more flavorful (Quality over quantity, right? You know it!). You can use only the melon or add different fruit to add to the contrasting textures of the dish–nectarines, peaches, papaya, or pretty much any meaty fruit will work.
Choose your ham. I love Ibérico ham, but you can also use a more traditional Parma ham (prosciutto). Pepin recommends a Spanish Serrano shaved thin. The ham is up to you, just find one you like and buy the highest quality you can.
Cut your fruit into bite-sized pieces and arrange it on your platter. I also like to cut my ham into smaller pieces (for Ibérico, this means cutting the pieces in half, for prosciutto, you might have to do thirds) as well. Then, I loosely roll the ham piece up like a mini cigar and place the rolls around the fruit, almost like I’m doing a really natural flower arrangement. While I think sometimes it’s fun to get ornate with the presentation of this dish, for the most part, I like to keep it elegant and organic looking.
Drizzle your lime juice over the fruit and sprinkle your chopped mint. Now, roughly crack your whole peppercorns in your mortar and pestle and add those to the mix. Believe me, using cracked pepper really makes a difference in this dish. It adds a nice spice and a texture you just don’t get with ground. Drizzle with olive oil and finish with light sprinkling of sea salt. Enjoy!